All these concepts like white privilege and microaggressions more or less boil down to exercising basic empathy and self-awareness. I grew up in a wealthy, 95% white suburb in Connecticut and have lived in Canada, LA, Boston, and Chicago, and bouncing around North America really made me aware of how sheltered and homogenous my upbringing was. I didn't have any interaction with an openly gay person until I was 15, none with Muslims until I was in college. My friend group, until I was 18, was almost exclusively straight, privileged white people. It took me integrating myself within diverse communities for me to scratch the surface of understanding what life in America is like for other groups of people.

I don't think it's a coincidence that a lot of this white backlash is coming from the suburbs. As much as the media wanted to make a narrative of Trump supporters being these downtrodden blue-collar-types, exit polling shows that the average Trump supporter has an above-average income and is a white suburbanite. But even the suburban liberals I know would put a BLM lawn sign on their front yard, but would be apprehensive in calling out racism amongst our friend group or don't really support redistributive policies that would level the playing field in terms of access to healthcare and education.

Really, the only antidote to all this culture war nonsense is interacting with and developing real personal relationships with people of different backgrounds and perspectives than you, and for each person to be humble about what they know and don't know. And to turn off cable news! Unfortunately, with people retreating into their own media bubbles, and market forces encouraging media outlets to pander to their audience, I have doubts as to when this cultural schism will end, if at all.

Expand full comment

So here's what's going to be an unpopular comment:

"But the more time I spend with white people — across class lines, across political lines, across geographic lines — the more I believe that we all have the same basic driving animus in this moment: we all desperately want to be assured that we’re one of the good ones."

Ah. Well, when I was a poor kid, we did not have any money (comparatively speaking) so we were automagically designated 'bad people'. But further to that, my white grandmother, daughter of a heiress and a dentist, got married to a black man in 1970, just 2 1/2 years after interracial marriage became the law. I was not even three years old. I grew up with a black man as a grandfather.

To extend that, in 1973, my grandparents were driving home and a white guy in a pickup, wearing a cowboy hat, decided he didn't like a black man and a white woman riding in a car together, and proceeded to deliberately hit their car and drove their car off the side of the bridge. My grandfather spent two months in the hospital. My grandmother spent six months in the hospital, and it was a miracle she could walk afterwards.

I could go on about being attacked for being 'a nigger-lover' &c (and fighting back) so... I have never thought of it in terms of being 'a good person'. I have always thought of it in terms of 'let's fight the racist assholes because they're after *US* [my family, my friends, my people]'. So...

"But even granting that, as somebody who has talked to thousands of white progressives about race over the past few years, you don’t have to do too much digging before folks reveal that, as much as they’re ashamed about it, their primary impetus for “anti-racist” work is to be seen (and therefore) validated by Black, Brown and Indigenous people as doing the right thing."

... I feel I'm listening to you talk about people living on the moon.

"It doesn’t matter how fervently you can rend your garments. I mostly just want you to support a high enough tax rate that we can afford a universal safety net and reparations. I don’t care if your kids’ private school is using that “white supremacy culture” worksheet; I’d much rather you don’t send your kids to private school in the first place."

OK, now this I can get behind. All the frippery about having the right goddamn sign and using exactly the right terminology usually sounds (to me) like rearranging the chairs on the Titanic. Or maybe people want to be applauded for falling to do anything useful.

It doesn't matter what day it is, the cops have shot at least one black person today and maybe two or three, the well-off people in the neighborhood (doesn't matter which neighborhood) are mad because they set up a homeless shelter nearby, and a bunch of other people are busy trying to strangle the public schools while doing anything and everything to make sure their spratling gets ahead (and the best way to do that, it seems, is to make sure as many as possible stay behind). Doing anything about that is good, and everything is unimportant, even if it's swaddled in the most concerned language possible.


not a knock on you, guy

Expand full comment

You bring up a really good point - there is a huge difference between white folks from multiracial families and white folks who aren't. It was personal for you in a way that it isn't for the majority of white people. This is actually an issue I have with a lot of current discourse on race - it completely ignores multiracial families. Yes, there are situations where white family members are totally oblivious (like in the TV Show "This is Us") but also situations where white family members are ostracized and attacked because of their black family members.

I grew up in a mostly white, conservative area and was friends with a black girl growing up from a multiracial family and her family was mostly ostracized. Her white mom often volunteered in our elementary school and all of the kids were so cruel and made fun of her mom like she had leprosy. The PTA moms were fake nice to her for woke points (although it wouldn't have been called that then) because they weren't going to chase away one of their most consistent volunteers. The shitty behavior her mom faced was by no means anything close to what her black husband and daughters faced, but she didn't get a get-out-of-jail free pass, either.

I have a white female friend with a black husband who struggles with the idea that being white means you are racist - "if I were racist then my husband wouldn't have married me!" She admits that since they started dating that her eyes were really opened to institutional racism and recognizes that she can unintentionally be biased racially. But yeah, she's right, if she were intentionally racist, there's no way he would have stayed with her and no way they'd be trying to have children together.

Expand full comment

The thing that has to be said here explicitly is that if your actual, physical world remains segregated (which for many white Americans is the default), then all the donating and following on SM and reading the right books is performative. For some folks it may be a start, but if you remain there then all you are is a slacktivist. It sounds like his work is trying to catalyze beyond the little screens, and that's phenomenal.

Expand full comment

YES. Yes yes yes. Thank you, both of you.

Expand full comment

This is so good you two. It brings up some of the issues I've been thinking a ton about and really feels right on. I can't wait to read Garrett's book. I also loved the elegy on old Missoula. I went to school at U of MT from 1993-1996 and sure miss the place he recalls.

Expand full comment

The question "What are white people freaked out about now?" assumes that all white people are freaked out about the same thing.

"a book about white people’s relationship to each other, about how and why we don’t conceive of ourselves as a community." Well, I suppose some white people (Proud Boys, etc.) see themselves as a community.

"The people whom I train and coach all have a few things in common." Would college education, and health insurance be among them? I'm guessing that most people with a BLM sign in their front yard are homeowners.

On the other hand, people working three jobs to put food on the table, and hoping to avoid eviction may not see themselves as belonging to the same community as those sending their kids to private school (a benefit of which is that their kids won't share a classroom with Walmart or McDonald's workers) - or the audience for this newsletter.

Expand full comment

I absolutely agree that white people of all stripes (and for lots of different reasons) don't view themselves as "being a part of the same community" with each other. With that said, as somebody who has spent the past couple of years working with white folks from the full range of the American class divide (including Walmart and fast-food workers as well as private school parents), I would challenge the idea that only bougie white people are trying to make sense of what it means to be white in this moment (and that poor and working-class white folks are only processing the world through a materialist lens).

It's actually those two realities next to each other-- the fact that white people are absolutely desperate to distinguish themselves from each other (sometimes for valid reasons, such as class distinctions, sometimes for really dangerous reasons) AND that we have, whether we like it or not, a shared problem that we can't solve without paying attention to our (socially constructed but now very real) racial inheritance- that I'd argue is the existential question of whiteness at this moment in time.

Expand full comment

Wow, wow, wow! This is exactly the type of information I've been craving to both get myself out of a personal rut and navigate a couple sticky wickets at work. Thank you Anne and Garrett!

Expand full comment

All I could think about when reading the article:


Expand full comment